Ken Peluso aspired to be a SWAT medic since he started working for Palm Beach Gardens Fire Rescue 13 years ago.
He accomplished that goal Monday morning, taking his oath during a ceremony at the city’s Emergency Operations Center. He and Dave Terrana, another experienced firefighter-paramedic, completed the police academy on nights and weekends so they can go into “hot zones” with the SWAT team.
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That enables them to immediately treat any wounded police officers, bystanders or suspects in dangerous situations. They will have the full rights of police officers —including carrying a gun — when they’re acting as SWAT medics, police Chief Stephen Stepp said.
“They can instantly treat you, even if there’s gunshots going off and things are the worst of the worst,” Stepp said.
Before SWAT medics, fire-rescue would be notified of a dangerous call and sit with a fire engine a quarter-mile away. They would need to wait for police to clear the scene, delaying medical treatment.
The city has had SWAT medics for about 15 years, and the two currently serving are close to retirement, Stepp said. Terrana and Peluso have trained to take their place.
Because of the training, Terrana started carrying a stash of medical supplies with him at all times. He put it to use July 5, when he rescued a man from a burning car while headed to a family vacation.
The Palm Beach Gardens Police Foundation sponsored the SWAT medics’ attendance at the police academy. They graduated in June and have been training with the SWAT team for several months to get acclimated, Stepp said.
The training goes both ways. Terrana and Peluso taught police to apply tourniquets and other bandages — “self-survival” skills, Peluso said.
With the killings of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, one of Peluso’s fire-rescue colleagues asked him if he was nervous about his dual role.
“I feel like I’m safer than you guys are,” he replied, crediting the SWAT team and training.
In case of a mass casualty situation, all firefighter-paramedics are being trained to work in the “warm zone,” which is where bullets aren’t flying everywhere but it’s not entirely safe, Stepp said.
Palm Beach Gardens handles about a dozen SWAT operations a year, ranging from armed people who have committed serious crimes barricading themselves into a room to people experiencing mental health issues who have fired shots, Stepp said.
When high-risk, low-frequency SWAT situations do occur, having SWAT medics can save lives.
“The work that you guys are doing is so, so valuable to us,” Stepp told Terrana and Peluso during the ceremony.